Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ask Me Anything: Classic Movies Edition

Recently on social media I sent out a prompt for people to submit me questions about classic movies. I got some really great responses!

  • What’s an old film you’ve changed your mind on over the years? For better or worse.
  • What is a popular, well-liked classic film that you personally can't get into?
  • What classic movie that you love is one you feel is criminally overlooked by the general public?
  • What do you think was the best year for movies?
  • What are five classic films that you’d recommend people share with their friends when introducing them to the world of old movies?
  • If you could un-see any classic film and watch it again for the very first time, which one would it be?
  • Which classic film actor or actress do you think would have made an awesome YouTuber?
  • If you could go on a cross-country road trip with 3 classic film stars, who would they be, which type of vehicle would you take and who would do the bulk of the driving?
  • Pick a decade of movies to send to the outer limits of the universe as a time capsule of that Earth's BEST represents. Examples of why you chose that decade. .
  • How did you take the path into reviewing/writing about classic movies?
  • Which actor/actress would you most like to have dinner and drinks with while watching a classic movie MST3K style?
  • Which classic - a film that is commonly thought of among the pantheon of great old films - would you most like to see remade, and why?
  • Have you watched a classic movie that you felt should have been more popular but was maybe too ahead of its time, risqué, etc?
  • Who or what led you to become a fan of classic film?
  • What is the first classic movie you fell in love with?
  • What is the first classic movie you remember watching?
  • What is the best way to get young people interested in classic movies?
  • In your opinion, the best classic movie?

I recorded my answers and posted them up on my YouTube channel today. I hope you enjoy the questions and my answers! Thank you to everyone who participated.

And if you like my YouTube videos, make sure to subscribe to my channel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trapeze (1956)

“You really fly high” - Mike
“Because I’m not afraid of anything.” - Lola

As one of the few trapeze artists to ever perform a triple somersault, one of the most dangerous and highly skilled moves, Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) seems unstoppable. That is until a fall leaves him crippled and puts an end to his career as a flier. Years later Ribble is working as a stage hand at a Paris circus run by famous Bouglione (Thomas Gomez), a tyrant who cares little about his performers and a lot about making a profit. Ribble meets Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis), a talented young trapeze artist who idolizes Ribble and dreams of becoming a flier in the circus. With a little push from his old flame and fellow circus performer Rosa (Katy Jurado), Ribble takes Tino under his wing. The two work on a new act with Ribble as catcher and Tino as flier, with the intention of getting Tino to the ultimate goal of perfecting the triple. Working with Tino breathes new life into Ribble. But one woman stands in their way: Lola (Gina Lollobrigida). She’s a headstrong acrobat, who came from a particularly dire situation in her native Italy. Lola will do anything and step over anyone to succeed. When Bouglione puts this unlikely trio together for the act, the opportunist, the dreamer and the fallen star must come together to put on the performance of a lifetime. When both Ribble and Tino fall for the tempestuous Lola, will their act fall apart? Will Ribble finally be able to help Tino master that triple?

Trapeze (1956) was based on Max Catto's 1950 novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto. It was adapted to screen by Liam O’Brien (brother of actor Edmond O’Brien) and James R. Webb with uncredited help by writers Ben Hecht and Wolf Mankowitz. The film was plagued with legal troubles as other authors came forward claiming that the film’s plot was stolen from their own original stories. Author Badia Jacobs filed a lawsuit in 1962 claiming that her unpublished manuscript entitled “No Alternative” was plagiarized by Catto for his novel. In 1948, Jacobs gave her manuscript to agent Ben Medford and claims Medford subsequently plotted with Catto to steal the story and publish it as The Killing Frost. Jacobs did not find out about Catto’s novel until she saw the film adaptation years later. The two stories were vastly different and the judge eventually dismissed the case. Screenwriter Daniel Fuchs also filed suit. Fuchs’ story The Daring Young Man was published in Collier’s magazine in 1940 and he adapted it into a screenplay which he claims he gave to producer Harold Hecht who then stole it for the movie. After two years of litigation, both parties settled out of court for $50k.

Burt Lancaster’s production company, one he co-owned with Harold Hecht and James Hill, produced the film. At the time it was called Joanna Productions but was eventually was renamed Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions. Before becoming an actor, Lancaster was a skilled acrobat and trapeze artist. He performed in circuses, carnivals and nightclubs until an injury ended his career, much like character Mike Ribble in the film. Lancaster was eager to make a movie about the circus and relive his acrobat days. He partnered with his childhood friend Nick Cravat who became an adviser and body double in the film. Lancaster does the majority of his own stunts as a trapeze catcher in the film. Other stuntmen and women were used in the film. Eddie Ward of the Ringling Bros. Circus was a technical consultant. Tragically, Lollobrigida’s stuntwoman died during the filming of one of the scenes when she fell 40 feet and broke her back.

In the mid 1950s, Lancaster was on top of his game and his clout was enough to get an independent film like Trapeze under way. It was a big production shot entirely at the Cirque d’Hiver and the Billancourt Studios in Paris. Montgomery Clift was under consideration for the part of Tino. The role eventually went to Tony Curtis who was borrowed from Universal. Trapeze was director Carol Reed’s first American film. It was also Gina Lollobrigida’s first film with an American production company (an arrangement with Howard Hughes prevented her from making films in Hollywood). Trapeze was shot in CinemaScope and released through United Artists in July 1956. It was a huge hit earning $4.1 million in the first week and was screened in over 400 theaters in the United States. It broke United Artists’ record for highest grossing film both domestically and internationally.

Trapeze (1956) is an enjoyable film with lots of great aerial stunts and a love triangle drama to boot. Lancaster and Curtis proved to be a great onscreen duo and would later re-team for Sweet Smell of Success (1957). They play off of each other so well. Gina Lollobrigida plays a terribly unlikable character but she does it so well. I enjoyed Katy Jurado’s role as Rosa. She’s basically the polar opposite of Lollobrigida’s Lola. I would have liked a bit more backstory about Rosa and her relationship with Ribble. Jurado’s role is understated but key to giving the film a sense of balance. Otherwise you have three very headstrong characters (four if you want to add Gomez’ Bouglione) causing chaos in the story. In Catto’s novel, the love triangle becomes murderous and Tino and Ribble’s relationship turns out to be more than just mentor and apprentice. I'd love to see a modern remake take on Catto's LGBT love story and tragic ending.

Trapeze (1956) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of the Studio Classics line. The disc includes subtitles, audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, the original theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber related trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Final Summer Reading Round-Up

Photo via Emily on Instagram

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light
Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode

Emily on Instagram
Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland
Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star by Stephen Michael Shearer
Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear by Scott O'Brien

Photo courtesy of Andy

James of Dark Lane Creative
The Art of Looking in Hitchcock's Rear Window by Stefan Sharff
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s by Mary Ann Doane
Hollywood Beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture by
The Technicolor Time Machine by Harry Harrison

Karen of Shadows and Satin
Behind the Scenes by Rudy Behlmer
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film by Kenneth Turan
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
So Big by Edna Ferber
Week-end Marriage by Faith Baldwin

All 6 reviews can be found here

Lee of
The Movies: From 1930 to the Present by Jeremy Pascall (see video above)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Raquel of Out of the Past
The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey

Robby on Instagram
Burt Lancaster: An American Life by Kate Buford
Doris Day: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner

Ruth of Silver Screenings
Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Hollywood Jewels
The Matinee Idols by David Carroll
The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman
Swanson on Swanson

All 6 reviews can be found here

Sarah on Goodreads
Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman

Vanessa of Super Veebs
The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey
Elsa Lanchester, Herself: An Autobiography by Elsa Lanchester (partial read)
The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy
A Rose For Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan
The Salad Days: An Autobiography by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

 All 6 reviews can be found here.

Congratulations to the following recipients for completing 6 books.

Emily on Instagram
Lee of
Robby on Instagram
Sarah on Goodreads

I chose three grand prize winners at random and those winners are:

Emily, James and Lee!

Winners will receive their choice of a single disc Warner Archive DVD. 

Thanks to everyone who participated. See you next year.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey

The Girl on the Balcony
Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo & Juliet
by Olivia Hussey
Kensington Publishing
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496717078
320 pages
July 2018

AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

"Juliet: It's the defining role of my life... It changed everything, and you would define my life in ways I never could have imagined."

At the tender age of 15, Olivia Hussey landed the role of a lifetime: Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). Alongside newcomer Leonard Whiting, the duo captivated audiences around the world breathing new life into Shakespeare's renowned play. When I was a teenager I saw Romeo and Juliet in my high school English class. In fact I was shown the film more than once over the years and I remember being in total awe of how this movie recreated a world lost to time but I was particularly captivated by the chemistry between Hussey and Whiting. It opened my eyes and awakened something within me. This year at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival I got a chance to meet Hussey and Whiting and thank them in person for how their movie affected me all those years ago.

In Olivia Hussey's memoir The Girl on the Balcony, she takes readers on a journey of her entire life from her early days in Argentina to the present day. The second of two children, her parents split up shortly after she was born and a few years later her mother whisked her and her brother off to England. It was here that Hussey pursued her interest in acting. After a stint on stage and a couple bit parts in movie, she traveled to Cinecitta in Italy to audition for Zeffirelli for the part of Juliet. She was paired with Whiting from the very beginning and the two were up against hundreds of other hopefuls. The making of this movie was highly anticipated by many and became a worldwide cinematic event. It catapulted Hussey into stardom.

In the book Hussey recounts in wonderful detail the making of Romeo and Juliet. I was especially pleased by this because like many others that is one of the reasons I was drawn to the book. The reader settles into to the world of 1960s Cinecitta. I particularly loved reading the passages of the sweet bond she developed with Whiting, they remained friends for decades, and the mutual admiration between her and director Zeffirelli. He could be a tough director but she acknowledges that he knew what he was doing and could bring out the best performances from her. The two would later work on Jesus of Nazareth together.

Hussey is a gentle soul who wears her heart on her sleeve. You can tell this from her book. We follow the ups and downs of her life. Her marriages to Dean "Dino" Paul Martin (her first great love who died tragically in a plane crash), Akira Fuse (the Japanese rock legend) and her current husband David Glen Eisley with whom she's been in a loving and supportive marriage since 1991. We learn about her children Alex, Max, and India. There are also the various films and TV shows she worked on over the years which culminated with another role of a lifetime, Mother Theresa in the TV movie Madre Teresa. She discusses moving to LA, living in the Tate-Polanski home just weeks after the Manson murders, her abusive relationship with Christopher Jones (Ryan's Daughter), and her tender bond with the Dean Martin clan. We learn about the classic Hollywood legends that entered her world over the years including Robert Mitchum (he was a good cook), Frank Sinatra (helped her out with Dino Martin was arrested), Elizabeth Taylor (Burton once said Hussey was like Taylor), Bette Davis ("working with her was its own kind of suffering), David Niven ("like me he was a giggler"), Burt Lancaster (she was in awe of him) and many more.

We also learn about Hussey's spiritual enlightenment when she met the guru who would change her life. Then there were her bouts of post partum depression, her drinking problem and the stage 4 breast cancer that almost claimed her life. I was particularly interested to learn about her struggles with agoraphobia. When I met Hussey on the red carpet at this year's TCMFF, I noticed that she remained arm-in-arm with Whiting the entire time. In fact when I shook both of their hands, she would not remove her arm from his. Now I realize Whiting must have been giving her support because with all the press, photographers and the bleachers filled with adoring fans, that must have triggered her agoraphobia. We sometimes think of movie stars as extreme extroverts but it's interesting to learn that some of them have their own social anxieties and fears like we do.

Hussey's memoir is a delightful read. She has a gentle and soothing narrative voice. There are a few grammatical errors that could be easily cleaned up with some editing. Fans of Romeo and Juliet or anyone interested looking for a straightforward and highly readable memoir will want to check this one out.

A special thank you to my friend Vanessa who gave me an autographed copy of Hussey's book as a gift.

This is my fourth review for the Summer Reading Challenge.  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Interview with Kathryn Sermak, author of Miss D & Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Sermak, Bette Davis' former assistant and author of the memoir Miss D & Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis. I met Kathryn at her book talk and signing at the Harvard Coop back in November of last year. She was very kind and gave everyone a bookplate modeled after the one Davis used in her own library. Miss D & Me is now available in paperback from Hachette Books. 

Raquel Stecher: How did you come to meet and work for Bette Davis?

Kathryn Sermak: It was June 1979 and I had just finished working for the Shahs Sister of Iran, Princess Pahlavi. At that time there was no organizations for personal assistants. Miss Davis was looking for someone to travel and assist her while working on a film being shot in England. Miss Davis hired Mr. Carlson, who had a company that serviced V.I.P.s. He had heard about me through the grapevine and the rest of the story is told in our book Miss D & Me.

Stecher: What was Davis like as your employer and your friend?

Sermak: In the beginning It was like “Boot Camp”. Miss D had her way of doing things that I thought we’re ridiculous and I had to learn her system. At 23, and a college graduate, I was no different than kids today - at that age one thinks they can conquer the world - the world is our oyster and I was hungry to venture out and discover it. Miss D on the other hand was 71 and felt I was unworldly and had a lot to learn. “Rough beginning make great endings” She would say. It’s through this journey, as I tell in our book, that the roles at times change (like when she had the stroke) and we became best friends. She could be so funny and loved playing practical jokes.

Stecher: Bette Davis lived an unapologetic life. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about her?

Sermak: It wasn’t until after Miss D’s passing that I started to hear all these stories about her. Because she was so private - people often thought she was the character she played in the films. They loved the character she portrayed and would often see themselves in that role. In Miss D & Me - I show the private Miss D, the woman and all she stood for… She loved her family and her work were of the utmost important.

Stecher: What's an important life lesson Davis taught you that you still put into practice today?

Sermak: Miss D always said, "March to the beat of your own drum and follow your passion." "Trust your instincts-they’re never wrong." It so true, the latter took me longer to learn.

Stecher: What was your favorite memory with Davis?

Sermak: I have so many - are we discussing the funny times, learning the lessons, girlfriends chatting, dinner parties… there are so many that I discuss in the book - it’s hard to chose just one.

Stecher: A lot of my readers are big fans of TCM and loved Robert Osborne. Osborne and Davis were quite close at the end of her life. Do you have a happy memory of the two of them together to share?

Sermak: Oh I have so many. Bob, as I called him, Miss D’s nick name for him was “Bully.” Bob would call Miss D, “Spuds” because she loved potatoes - any type, shape or form. I just went through my scrapbook and some of Bob’s letters to Miss D - they shared so many wonderful times together. Never a dull moment. On one of his cards it reads, “You are a kindred spirit someone with whom words are not needed… Happy Memories, there were many as I mention in the book. Miss D making Easter bonnets for Bob to wear at her home and he’s playing with an Easter rabbit, she named Mr. Brier. They were good friends. He was a Taurus and she was an Aries. At times - they both could be stubborn but they had love and deep admiration for one another.

Stecher: What inspired you to write a book about your years with Bette Davis?

Sermak: It’s a promise I made to Miss D many years ago. She told me, “Kath, one day you must write about our story, book first then a movie.” I always said no. She said, "Oh, yes you will - promise me - it’s a great story and there’s much in it for everyone young and old to learn from.” You will write the book first and then a movie. I didn’t understand it back then, but over the years, reading her letters to me, listening to tapes, I matured and understood what I promised her I would do.

Stecher: You and Davis recorded your conversations. How did these tapes become the source material for your memoir? 

Sermak: When we recorded these conversations, it wasn’t that we were doing it for writing a memoir. We were living life in the moment. The tapes started when I moved to France to be with my boyfriend. Even though I spoke to Miss D regularly, I made them to introduce her to life in France and she recorded all the goings on at home - just like we were there in each other’s presence. Over time - some lead for me to interview her as a reporter- (next step for a possible job opportunity- new career) At that point, it was more Miss D always looking and empowering my growth, she often said, “if women could only be more supportive to other women instead of tearing them down - they would get a lot farther. Look at the men they support one another like in the old boys club days.” She did that for me way ahead of her time.

Stecher: What do you hope readers take away from your memoir?

Sermak: There’s so much in our story for the youth today can learn so much from the elderly and the elderly have so much to give. They’ve lived life, they want to pass on the lessons they’ve learned so the youth won’t make the same mistakes but new ones moving the world forward.

The baby boomers whose parents or dear friends hit illnesses - shows both sides of what the patient and the care giver goes through. There were no books on it at that time.

For women today, Miss D was a pioneer - way ahead of her time. She was very supportive of woman as I stated earlier and I tell many stories in the book about her mentoring me. And it’s about universal love. Your readers can check out: or on Facebook:

Stecher: Tell us about The Bette Davis Foundation, Inc. that you co-founded with her son Michael Merrill.

Sermak: We created The Bette Davis Foundation foundation to raise funds to award scholarships to aspiring actresses and actors, as well as talented students in a cross section of related fields within the entertainment industry. We gave the first Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award to Meryl Streep in 1998 at Boston University. One of the students from Boston University was the first recipient of the scholarship.

To learn more about the foundation please visit official website.

The Bette Davis Foundation
c/o Merrill & McGeary
100 State Street, Suite 200
Boston, MA, USA 02109
Phone: (617) 523-1760

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